The Pull of the Little City

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I’ve been struggling with a rural versus urban dilemma for a while. I want the quick access to parks, beaches, and forests that a more rural lifestyle can offer, but also to shops, services, and public transportation that are clustered in cities. I want to know all my neighbours, have space to grow, and cleaner air to breathe, but also to experience large concerts, protests, and crowded markets (ok, maybe not right now!).

Although the pull of the big city has won until now, it’s not without its own challenges. Happily, I think I’ve finally found the perfect solution to my rural versus urban quandary in Treehouse Village Ecohousing.

I was born and raised in Bristol, a city of roughly half a million people in the south west of England. I lived within walking distance of the city centre and went to school by train. In five minutes I could reach a high street packed with independent shops, grocers, and cafes. There was a large urban park just around the corner from my house with play equipment and a paddling pool, always brimming with activity on hot summer days. 

I left Bristol eight years ago to embark on my Canadian adventure. First, I went to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia. The Point Grey campus was beautiful, a bustling hub of activity surrounded by beaches and covered in trees – a little town of its own, replete with hospitals, grocery stores, libraries, cafes, and walking trails. I studied Geography, and got really into courses relating to urban planning and sustainability, prompting me to cast a critical eye on my surroundings and reflect deeply on the type of place I wanted to live. 

I was sad to leave Vancouver, where everything seemed to only be a bus, train, or bike ride away and new “green” initiatives were being implemented around every corner. However, staying there after graduation was not a financially viable option for my family. We were also keen to move east, closer to my in-law’s in Prince Edward Island and family in England. Deciding where to go next was a challenge. I had serious hesitations about living in a smaller city, and certainly didn’t ever want to live a “rural” lifestyle.

Rather begrudgingly, we moved to Halifax – mostly because my wife, Caitlin, got into a graduate program at Dalhousie University. In three short years, I have grown to love it here. We live in a small attic apartment just two blocks from the Halifax Commons, where we frequently picnic, ride our bikes, and take evening strolls. There are two large grocery stores within a ten-minute walk, as well as numerous independent cafes. The city is just small enough that we have chance encounters with friends at least once a week – something that rarely happened in Vancouver or Bristol.

But there are also things I don’t love about Halifax. There’s a constant rumbling of engines, a tireless ebb and flow of commuter traffic that passes so close to our front door that we have to hold back our infant son whenever we open it. To escape the city for more than an hour or two in Point Pleasant Park you really need a car. There’s so much going on, I often feel like I’m missing out on something. 

Caitlin has always had a slightly different perspective. She grew up in a small village outside of Cambridge in England, where her yard backed directly onto a field and she often watched tractors haul hay while she and her sister swung on their swings. She sometimes found the hustle and bustle of Vancouver suffocating, relishing quiet escapes to the beach or the forest – although she was thankful for the multitude of parks, beaches, and more natural environments that were right there in the city. Unlike me, she was keen to move to the quieter city of Halifax, and would have moved somewhere even smaller if I’d been amenable to the idea! 

Bridgewater, miraculously, ticks all of both of our boxes – particularly when you factor Treehouse Village into the mix. The town is historically the service hub for the South Shore, and so it offers many of the amenities of a bigger city. There’s an up-and-coming high street, several farm stores and a market, grocery stores, banks-a-plenty, a shopping centre, library, hospital, and community college – all within walking distance. There’s a great daycare minutes down the trail from our land, and schools close by. There’s even a retail hub with a Walmart, Staples, and Canadian Tire on the edge of town by Exit 12 of the 101 – perfectly doable by bike if you’re not picking up too much, and certainly not too far for a short-range electric vehicle. It’s one of the few rural municipalities in Nova Scotia with a bus service. 

Crucially, Bridgewater offers these amenities which I usually associate with urban living in addition to the benefits of a more rural lifestyle. Opportunities for backcountry camping are a short drive rather than a hefty trek away. There’s space to roam, to grow vegetables, and explore nature. It’s quiet. And when I recently commented on a local parenting group asking for advice about where to find the best play park, the mayor himself responded within minutes with a link to a new one! 

I’m not sure I would move to Bridgewater if it wasn’t for Treehouse Village, but cohousing offsets some of my misgivings about a small town lifestyle. Knowing my immediate neighbours before I arrive will ease my transition to the smallest town I’ve ever lived in, and allow me to quickly build relationships with the wider community, meeting my need for social interaction and inclusion. Being intentional about our interdependence will encourage and enable me to reduce my ecological footprint in ways not possible by myself.

I surprise myself by how much less I am longing for. Bridgewater fulfills my needs and that’s about it, but that’s plenty enough. There’s no excess, not an overwhelming amount of choice, no endless array of enticing opportunities for unnecessary consumption. And hey, our provincial capital is only an hour away if I do ever need to escape to the big city.

2 responses to “The Pull of the Little City”

  1. Anne Wightman

    I enjoyed following your evolution in thinking about the relative merits of major urban vs small city living. Glad you came to your senses!

  2. Katherine

    After reading your story I wondered more about what makes up Bridgewater besides consumer opportunities. are there choirs or theatre groups? where might someone go for live music?

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